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Please stop telling me my adopted kids should be my 'second choice'

Michelle Brandstetter is a freelance writer. Her favorite topics include cooking, DIYs and the people who make cool things. She enjoys cat gifs, rock climbing and thinking about jogging.

Adopted kids are not my back-up plan and they shouldn't be yours

One day, someone will tell my child that they were my second choice. They might not use those words — they might not even be speaking directly to my child — but they’ll say something, somehow, that suggests it. They’ll be wrong.

My fiancé and I realized we had serious long-term potential fairly early. A few months into dating, we got to talking about kids, not in a “what will we name them?” way, but more in an abstract, figuring-out-each-other’s-stances way. That conversation led to a heartening discovery: We were both deeply interested in adopting.

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We each had slightly different reasons: I was vaguely afraid of pregnancy, and similarly nervous about passing on a few mild genetic issues. He felt like the world had enough people, and he didn’t personally want to add to that. We shared our largest motivation in common: There were kids who needed families, and we both wanted, so badly, to be that for someone.

The conversation came up a few more times before we got engaged, and by the time we were planning a wedding we both knew for certain that one day we’d adopt. Once we got engaged, it seemed more normal to talk to friends or family about it, and I discovered something I’d never expected:

People are weird about adoption.

No one’s been exactly negative about it. My mom expressed a vague disappointment that she wouldn’t get to see our “pretty babies,” but she was clearly saying it in jest and was obviously completely on board. A friend made a similar joke, and noted that family resemblance was one of her driving motivations for even wanting kids. An older family member said it far plainer: “Why would they adopt if they can have their own?”

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I don’t mind these reactions themselves or the people who made them, but the ideas behind them worry me. Adoption is pegged as a second choice, something people only turn to when they discover they’re infertile or when they don’t have a partner with whom they can reproduce.

This isn’t to speak ill of people who adopt for those reasons — they’re perfectly good reasons, after all — but the cultural undertone that adopted children are a consolation prize makes me ache.

You can see this online, too. Nearly every article talking about the adoption experience mentions this in some way or another. There’s the story of a mom whose first social worker — who was pregnant at the time herself — discouraged the would-be adoptive mom from creating a nursery. When the author asked if the worker had a nursery set up in her own home, she responded in the affirmative, stating it was because her baby was a “sure thing.”

Then there's the oft-seen “adoption is not the same as having a child of your own,” which pops up in internet comment sections. A similar sentiment tops Show Hope’s piece about misguided things people say to adoptive parents: “Do you have any children of your own?”

I know what all of these comments intend to mean, but I also hear what they’re saying: Adoption’s a fallback. If you can have biological children, you should. They’re better. More real. More yours.

That’s nonsense.

I want to adopt because one day, a person will be in a situation they weren’t ready for. For whatever reason, they’ll decide to have the baby anyway. That child will need a family. It will need parents who want it more than anything in the world, and the chips will fall in a way that lands that baby in my arms.

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That child, just like every adopted child, will not be a next-best thing. They will be the love of my and my fiancé’s lives. I’m not a mother yet, but I can already see one of the biggest, most important jobs I’ll have once I am. One day, someone will tell my child that they were my second choice. If I’ve done my job right, my child will know better.

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